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Will You Take Your Ministry to a New Level in ’15? Join My Network!

Join my 2015 Coaching Network

I want to invite you to join my 2015 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network; an experience designed to give you the tools and strategies you need in order to build a small group ministry that works in the 21st century.

Several of my 2014 alumni from quite a cross section of churches have already reported launching and sustaining record numbers of groups and connecting far more people than ever before.  I’d love to help you do the same thing!

Don’t take my word for it!

Here’s what three of my alumni had to say about the coaching network experience:

  • “I was a part of Mark’s Coaching Network and found it to be not only beneficial to helping me think outside the box, but also to hear from other pastors across the nation. If you are looking for a coaching network that will help you grow in your skills, sharpen your strategies, and guide you to take your next steps in small group ministry, make sure you sign-up for this coaching network!”  Jonathan Holcomb, LifeGroups and LifeMissions Pastor,, South Tulsa
  • “I would highly recommend Mark Howell’s Small Group Ministry Coaching Network.  I had been studying small group strategies prior to joining the network and discovered I had all kinds of questions as to which was the best approach for our church.  Rather than try to figure it out all alone, the network was a tremendous resource for me personally as well as our church as we began to implement a small group system.  Mark did a great job encouraging, challenging, and resourcing us as we chose a model to help us identify and reach our ‘preferred future’.  My experience with Mark Howell’s Coaching Network was well worth my investment of time and finances.  It has had a profound and lasting effect on my perspective of small group ministry.”  Kem Stickl, Journey Groups Director, Whitehaven Road Baptist Church
  • “I joined Mark Howell’s coaching network because I needed to make several significant decisions in our church’s group ministry. Adding Mark’s experienced, strategic mind to our process for that season was super helpful. But the best part has been the relationship I’ve continued to build with Mark since the coaching network.”  Mark Riggins, Community Life Pastor, Bible Fellowship Church

Ready to join?

My 2015 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in February and as of 12/9 I have 6 spots left. You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

7 Rules at the Essence of Small Group Coaching

heart of coachingI was on a coaching call yesterday and as we talked I realized that there are certain ideas, rules really, that always pop up in my conversations about small group coaching.

Here are 7 rules at the essence of small group coaching:

  1. Whatever you want to happen in the lives of small group members has to happen first in the lives of your small group leaders.  This is an idea at the very essence of a coaching.  It is just not wise to assume that small group leaders will be prepared to shepherd the members of their group in a way that makes disciples.  If you want to make disciples you’ve got to invest in your leaders first.  This has implications for how you develop your coaches too.  Can you see it?  See also, Life Change at the Member Level and 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches.
  2. You can’t build an effective coaching structure with people who are warm and willing.  They need to be hot and qualified.  I got this line from Don Cousins over 20 years ago and it gets proven over and over again.  Building an effective coaching structure requires high capacity men and women who are passionate about investing in leaders.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  3. Everyone needs to be cared for by someone, but nobody can take care of more than (about) ten.  Carl George’s great shorthand for Jethro’s instructions to Moses in Exodus 18 is an understanding at the essence of coaching.  High capacity volunteers can invest in about 5 small group leaders (and often their apprentices).  See also, Span of Care.
  4. Coaching has very little to do with teaching technique (i.e., how to lead a discussion or how to subdivide your group for a deeper connection).  Adults learn on a need to know basis and new small group leaders learn most of what they need to know in the way of technique in the first 3 or 4 months.  Otherwise their new group dies.  See also, 7 Core Ideas about Small Group Coaching and Coaching FAQ: How Much of Coaching Is About Technique?
  5. Coaching has everything to do with care.  Care is about doing to and for the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for their members.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  6. New small group leaders will almost always eagerly accept coaching.  New small group leaders don’t know what they don’t know, but they quickly discover they could use some help.  New small group leaders typically learn nearly everything they need to know in their first 3 or 4 months.  If new small group leaders take their first steps with a coach they will be in a position to accept care when they no longer need technique.
  7. Experienced small group leaders who make it through their first 3 or 4 months without a coach know intuitively and with certainty that they don’t need a coach.  If they needed a coach, their group wouldn’t still be alive.  They may not be offended when you retroactively assign them a coach, but they will reject their new coach like a bad organ transplant.  See also, How to Implement Coaching for Experienced Small Group Leaders and 20 Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Coaching.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Neil Moralee

5 Crucial Small Group Ministry Dashboard Indicators

dashboardHow healthy is your small group ministry?  How do you know?  What are you measuring?

The dashboard in your car monitors fuel level, speed, RPMs, oil pressure, engine temperature, etc.  What should your small group ministry’s dashboard be monitoring?  How do you know whether your ministry is healthy?

Here are the 5 crucial indicators I think you should be watching:

  1. The number of active small groups and active group members.  This may be an annual or semi-annual snapshot taken at a predictable time (i.e., mid-November or mid-April).  If you’re taking advantage of an easy-to-use church management system like Churchteams, you may be able to monitor this number week to week.  Be sure you are measuring in a way and at a time when you’re not simply noting the high water mark of a church-wide campaign.  Beyond simply monitoring the numbers it can provide a glimpse into the span of care in your groups.
  2. Year to date change in the number of active small groups.  Carefully monitoring the number of active groups helps keep your finger on the pulse of the groups in your system.  Active is an important word and should not include groups that only meet during your church-wide campaign.
  3. Year over year change in the number of active small groups and active group members.  Tracking this trend line over several years provides an important measure of effectiveness.  Remember, it is easiest to connect new members to new groups.  See also, Top 5 Advantages of New Groups.
  4. The number of active coaches and the number of leaders in their care.  Since whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups must happen first in the lives of your leaders, the number of active coaches is important to monitor.  Pay attention to the second aspect of this measurement.  Coaches can only influence and impact the leaders for whom they are actually providing care.  See also, The Most Important Contribution of a Small Group Pastor and The Truth about Building an Effective Small Group Coaching Structure.
  5. The number of leaders not in the care of a coach.  This is an important number to monitor.  While some of these leaders may have someone encouraging their spiritual growth, it is quite likely that they do not.  Leaders who are not being cared for in a way that encourages spiritual growth are not likely to provide that kind of care for their members.

Here are a few more indicators you may want to watch:

  • The total number of facilitators.  How many different people take a turn at facilitating your groups?  This number can be captured in an annual or semi-annual snapshot.  It is a leading indicator that hints at the number of potential leaders within your existing small group membership.  Encouraging your group leaders to enlist and engage additional facilitators is important and can be part of your annual effort.  See also, 10 Things Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know and Skill Training: How to Develop More Leaders.
  • The total number of homes and locations used by your groups.  This is an important leading indicator for potential new group leaders.  See also, Skill Training: Rotating Host Homes.
  • The number of active group members who don’t attend your church.  This number can provide important clues into the inclusivity of your groups.  It can also provide a hint into the kinds of people who are leading your groups.  Remember, the least connected people in your church are often the most connected outside your church.  See also, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret?

What do you think?  Have one to add?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Randy von Liski

The Power of God’s Names by Dr. Tony Evans

power of gods namesFinally had an opportunity this week to spend some time with a new study from Dr. Tony Evans.  The Power of God’s Names was published earlier this year (2014) and is another great offering from one of America’s most dynamic preachers.  Evans has been the Senior Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship for close to four decades and is a popular conference speaker.

“In biblical times, names communicated a person’s essence–their history, nature, or character.  That’s why God revealed Himself by dozens of different names in Scripture.  No single name could convey the fullness of His character and works.  Learn the meanings of God’s names to know Him more fully and experience Him more deeply.” (from the cover)

A six session study, The Power of God’s Names examines 11 names of God.  Filmed live, the DVD segments capture Dr. Evans’ signature energy and style.  At an average length of 25 to 30 minutes, Dr. Evans intensity and the strength of his content will hold your members’ attention.

The member book includes a well-written set of opening questions designed to help members engage in the discussion.  A viewer guide makes it easy to follow the Dr. Evans’ teaching.  Each of the sessions conclude with a carefully designed set of discussion questions that will help members respond to what they have learned and experienced.

Each session in the member book also includes a set of five daily devotional studies that will help deepen your members’ understanding and expand application.

The leader kit also includes a copy of Dr. Evans’ book by the same title.  Members that desire a deeper understanding of the names of God may decide to read the book in addition to completing the weekly devotionals.

The Names of God is a powerful study that will be just the thing for groups searching for deeper knowledge of God’s character.  If you’re looking for a study that will show your members more of who God is, The Name of God ought to be on your radar.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Here’s My Reading List for Christmas 2014

Every year I create a list of books I think you should read.  Sometimes the books I include are very purely about small group ministry, discipleship or spiritual formation.  Other times, the books I include may seem pretty far afield (innovation, design, leadership, or strategy).  You’ll just have to trust me.  I wouldn’t include a book I didn’t think would be added to your toolbox and contribute in a trajectory-altering way.

That said…here is this my 2014 Christmas Reading List:

essentialismEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I’m about halfway through this one and have already begun to apply some of the practices McKeown identifies. If you regularly find yourself trying to figure out how to do everything you’ve committed to do…this is a book you need to begin reading today.

change monsterThe Change Monster: The Human Forces that Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change by Jeanie Daniel Duck.  This is not a new book, but it’s one that will help you understand the process of change and provide many of the tools you need when a change process is in order.

creativity incCreativity Inc.: Overcoming the Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull.  Catmull, co-founder and president of Pixar provides an inside look at the development of an already legendary creative shop.  The principles he provides are transferable and will no doubt find their way into what you do.

power of habitThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.  I’m about 15% into this one and can see many ways it will have an influence on the work we are doing in discipleship.  In addition, some of Duhigg’s ideas will have direct application into the team we are building.

switch on your brainSwitch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking and Health by Dr. Caroline Leaf.  Dr. Leaf delivered a highly rated talk at the Catalyst conference earlier this fall.  Her discussion of thinking patterns, detailed in the book, has some very interesting and potentially productive connections into the change process that accompanies discipleship and spiritual growth.

Quotebook: The Job of a Change Agent

I have often joked that I want my title to be The Disruptor of the Status Quo.  It’s not really a joke, but so far I’ve not succeeded in getting the title officially.

I love this paragraph from a Bill Taylor article on HBR:

The job of the change agent is not just to surface high-minded ideas. It is to summon a sense of urgency inside and outside the organization, and to turn that urgency into action. It’s one thing for leaders to use fresh eyes to devise a new line of sight into the future. It’s quite another to muster the rank-and-file commitment to turn a compelling vision into a game-changing performance. My friend and Fast Company cofounder Alan Webber puts it well. Progress, he likes to say, is a math formula. It only happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change. That’s why the third principle of change is for leaders to encourage a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo, to persuade their colleagues that business as usual is the ultimate risk, not a safe harbor from the storms of disruption.

You can read the whole article right here.  It would be a great way to prepare for the changes that must come.

How to Design Next Steps and First Steps

first steps next stepsAt Canyon Ridge we want to provide next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends.  The essence of the idea is that when you think about the various kinds of people who attend your church, each of the various kinds of people would require their own next step.

The simplest way to think about the various kinds of people would be to think about the differences between the never-miss-a-week type and the Christmas and Easter type.  Can you see that difference?  It’s probably very distinct.

Saddleback’s concentric circles illustrate the various kinds of people in an easy to understand way.  I’ve provided my own definitions and descriptions of their five categories in another post.  Again, the key is in understanding that each of the various category would require their own next step.  See also, Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System.

Here’s my prescription for designing next steps for everyone:

First, begin to assemble a set of characteristics for each of the kinds of people who attend your church.  For example, the congregation are “people that attend more regularly.  They may come 2 or 3 times a month.  They may serve occasionally (for instance, when you add greeters for Easter).  They may give when they attend and many of them may give what they happen to have in their wallet.  But mostly, they’re more frequent consumers of what you’re producing.”

Note: Saddleback’s concentric circle diagram is a good place to start but as your understanding becomes more clear you should begin to notice nuances and expressions unique to your church.  For example, I often refer to the fact that those in the outer edge of the congregation are not that different from those in the inner edge of the crowd.  I’ve also found that there’s not much difference between those in the crowd and those in the community.

Second, begin to form a set of assumptions about their interests and needs.  It often helps to think about a few actual people that you know who fit in the demographic category.  As your understanding of each category grows your assumptions about their interests and needs should become more accurate.

Ask: “What could we offer that would appeal to their interests and meet their needs?”

Ask: “Do we already have anything that will appeal to their interests and meet their needs?”

Third, design a next step for each of the kinds of people who attend your church.  Start by designing a next step for the group you think will be the easiest to target (or the most productive to target).  Don’t hold out for perfect.  The sooner you can test the step you’ve designed, the sooner you will know whether you have it right.

Note: In the same way that restaurants and retail stores are designed with a different market niche in mind, next steps must be customized to suit the different groups who attend your church.

Fourth, be sure and evaluate the effectiveness of each step.  Your process should be design, test, evaluate and modify.  Evaluating the steps you design will help your design become better and more accurate.  For example, when we evaluated our first try at a short-term on-campus strategy we realized it would probably help our results if we seated unconnected people together and seated already connected people at a different table.  Once we made that change, our results improved dramatically at the very next opportunity.  See also, Breaking: North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step.

What do you think?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Seattle Municipal Archives

5 Blind Spots that Affect Small Group Ministries Everywhere

I think we all know what a blind spot is…when it’s in our car.  It’s that spot that you can’t really see when you’re changing lanes or backing up.  If you’ve seen the movie Blind Side you know what it means in football (and you know the role of the left tackle).

What you may not realize is there are a few natural blind spots that affect small group ministries everywhere.

Think you might have a blind spot or two?  Here are 5 of the most common blind spots for small group ministries.

5 Blind Spots that affect small group ministries everywhere:

  1. Unnecessarily high entry standards for leaders.  Listen…we all want leaders who are truly capable of shepherding the members of their groups.  All of us dream of group leaders who will do to and for their members the things that will produce life-change.  All of us want that.  At the same time, entry levels that exclude the very people Jesus chose (Peter, Matthew and James), are Exhibit A of the blind spots that affect small group ministries everywhere.  See also, Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar.
  2. First steps that require extreme commitment.  First steps that require a 12 months or 18 month commitment are obviously extreme.  What about first steps that are 10 to 13 weeks?  Guess what…they seem an eternity to unconnected people!  Think about when you took a first step into a new habit.  Did you commit to a year?  Or a year and a half?  Unconnected people will only take a first step that is easy.  A one hour commitment?  Done.  A 4 to 6 week commitment?  Maybe.  A one year commitment?  Not a chance.  If you’re not offering a one time test-drive or a 6 week toe-in-the-water experience…you have a blind spot you don’t even know about.  See also, Creating Connecting Steps that Are Easy, Obvious, and Strategic.
  3. First steps that require near psychic intuition.  How easy is it to figure out what to do first?  Must I be psychic?  Do I have to do the hard work of figuring out who to call or where to click?  Remember, I’m barely interested.  And my husband (or my wife) will have to be bribed!  Whatever you want me to do first will have to be so easy even a caveman can do it.  It won’t require 3 clicks to find on the website and your receptionist will have to know the answer.  See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps Out of Your Auditorium?
  4. Interpretation for the unconnected.  You have an interpreter for the hearing impaired?  The unconnected people in your auditorium do not read lips and are not able to read between the lines.  If you want to connect unconnected people, your weekend teacher and every announcement and communication must provide explicit instructions that cannot be misinterpreted.  Offering “several ways that you can get connected here at First Community” only insures that unconnected people will hesitate and wait for clarity.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: a Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  5. A menu that pacifies the status quo.  Do you have menu items that only interest the already connected?  You know what I’m referring to.  Whether you want to connect unconnected people or provide legitimate next steps for the already connected and under-committed, you must de-clutter your menu and only feature legitimate next steps.  Including “steps” that only collect attendees and don’t actually lead anywhere are sideways energy and must be eliminated or retooled.  See also, Which Customer Is Your Ministry Designed to Connect?

What do you think?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

The Best Yes: Lysa TerKeurst’s Newest DVD-Driven Study

the best yesSpent some time this week with the newest study by Lysa TerKeurst: The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands.  TerKeurst is New York Times bestselling author and speaker who helps everyday women live an adventure of faith through following Jesus Christ. As president of Proverbs 31 Ministries, Lysa has led thousands to make their walk with God an invigorating journey.

In this six-session video-based Bible study Lysa TerKeurst shares how to make better use of the two most powerful words, yes and no.  Using Biblical teaching and practical insights this study will help you be more equipped to discern the best yes answers for your life.

The six topics covered in the study include:

  • Set Your Heart to Wisdom examines the beginning of wisdom.
  • Establish a Pattern of Wisdom studies a woman that established a pattern of wisdom that saved her city.
  • Practice Wisdom covers how wisdom must be practiced in daily life.
  • Predetermine Your Best Yes teaches the power of the small “no”.
  • Avoid the Traps of People Pleasing studies how we must not confuse the command to love with the disease to please.
  • Build a Best Yes Legacy teaches how to become more confident in making good decisions.

DVD-driven, The Best Yes is a six session study based on TerKeurst’s book by the same title.  A dynamic speaker, the sessions are just the right length.  At an average length of 13 to 18 minutes, they capture and hold attention as well as set up discussion very well.  Filmed on location in England, each session is set in a visually interesting location.

The study guide is very creatively designed.  With additional instructions for groups that meet for two hours, the study can be completed in 60 minutes.  Each session includes a video viewing guide and a simple set of discussion questions.  The sessions also include elements that engage every participant.  Providing a daily experience, each session also includes a Between Sessions Personal Bible Study.  Keeping today’s busy schedules in mind, these personal studies can be completed with a commitment of about 8 to 10 minutes a day.  The study guide also includes a optional plan to read through the Book of Proverbs during the six session study.

I am always looking for studies that will interest a broad cross section of adults.  When I can find a topic that appeals to new Christians and seasoned veterans, and will even appeal to friends and neighbors, I know I’ve found a winner; what I call a cross-cultural study.  The Best Yes is that kind of study!   If you’re looking for a study that will capture the attention of the women in your church (and their friends), you need to take a look at The Best Yes.  I loved it and I think you will too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Thankful for So Much


Sunrise Pink

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV

We have so much for which to be thankful.

That’s one way to say it.  I’m not much of a grammarian.

We have so much to be thankful for.

That’s better.

We really do have so much to be thankful for.  Even in a year marked by tragedy and sadness.  Maybe even especially in a year where our lives were irrevocably changed.

We are thankful for each other.  Debbie and I have been married 26 years (in just a couple weeks) and thank God every day for each other.

We are thankful for certainty.  We know where our son is.  We know that he is safe.  And we know we will see him again.

We are thankful for our family and friends who remind us every day that we are loved.

We are thankful for community.  We are thankful for our community where we are known and loved.

We are thankful for a God who loves us deeply and longs for us to know Him completely.

We are thankful for a God who watches over us every day and every night and whose mercies are new every morning.

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